Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Novena for the Fallen Through ~ our seventh prayer for the people of Grenfell

Here is the seventh of our Novenas for the Fallen Through, which for this month are devoted to Brigid and to seeking justice and healing for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. If you would like to read more about this work please pop and have a look here.

Today we weave a prayer appealing for fair reporting of tragedies such as the Grenfell fire in and by our press and media, whether in newspapers, on television/radio, or on line.

Among so many other things, St Brigid is also known as the Patron Saint of journalists. There is a holy well dedicated to her; St Bride’s Well, in Fleet Street in the south eastern corner of the land belonging to St Bride’s Church, which is one of the oldest in London. Although the ‘wedding cake’ like structure that many of us know now was designed by in 1672 by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London, there is a much older church below this from the 6th or 7th Century, which is said to have been founded by St Brigid of Kildare herself. There may be an older still pre-Christian sacred site beneath even these. The well was built over during the building of a modern part of the church, following damage by WWII bombing, but there are records of it being accessible into the 19th century.

The church has been associated with journalists and journalism for many hundreds of years. It might be assumed that this is simply because it is to be found on Fleet Street, the historic home of the press, but the association runs deeper than this. In 1500, publisher and William Caxton’s apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, set up a printing press in the building next to it and until 1695 London was the only city in England where printing was legal. After bombing during the Blitz, it was was newspaper proprietors and journalists who raised the money for its repair. Indeed, by the 20th Century, Fleet Street and the surrounding area were dominated by national newspapers and related industries. It was Rupert Murdoch who, in 1986, moved the publication of The Times and The Sun from Fleet Street to Wapping in East London, causing great controversy and protest and removing their activity from the immediate gaze of St Bride, removing the press from sacred space. Make of that what you will!

Reporting of the Grenfell fire has not always been as compassionate and fair as many of us might have wished. In the days following the event The Independent Press Standards Association received more than 1,300 complaints about an article in the Daily Mail, which appeared to be victim blaming by focusing on the actions and behaviour of the man in whose flat the fire is believed to have started. Complaints made referred to concerns about privacy and harassment and to intrusion upon grief and shock. The Mail is said to have ‘toned down’ the article following the reaction, although they deny having done so. Labour MP David Lammy, whose friend Khadija Saye and her mother Mary Mendy were killed in the fire, has accused the mainstream media of colluding with the Government to underplay the possible death toll, a suspicion shared by many members of the local community.

As individuals we are also responsible for the things that we write and share. For example, Falmouth resident Pauline O’Brien was greatly criticised for a letter which she wrote to her local newspaper complaining about Grenfell survivors being offered free holidays in Cornwall. That letter is now easily found via an internet search and her words, which she may or may not regret, are recorded there forever. We all need to be mindful of the words that we choose.

At the same time, both social media and certain sections of our press have been instrumental in revealing the scale of the fire, keeping it in the public eye, and in drawing attention to the underlying inequalities that may have contributed to its happening. The Mail on Sunday, for example, has reported that the fire riskconsultant who inspected Grenfell Tower repeatedly advised the managing group to “bury” the fire risk assessment, or risk further “expensive fire safety measures”. The Guardian and The Independent, together with The Mirror, have also done much to open eyes to the lives of those who lived in the Grenfell Tower, both before and after the fire. Many uncomfortable truths about the society we live in have been spoken.

In her stunning and thought-provoking book, ‘Gossip from the Forest’, Sara Maitland shares the progression of meaning held within the word ‘gossip’..

Gossip: God + Sib (akin, related)

1. One who has contracted a spiritual relationship with another by acting as a sponsor at a baptism.
2. A familiar acquaintance or friend, especially applied to a woman’s female friends invited to be present at a birth.
3. Idle talk; trifling or groundless rumour, tittle-tattle.”
(Oxford English Dictionary)

This change in meaning is somehow revealing of the ways in which the sharing of information, of news, which was once a sacred contract between the offerer and the receiver has been degraded until it is believed to be of no value at all. It is this sacred relationship that we must insist upon our journalists and national media upholding in the face of pressure from Governments and powerful corporations. Without that we will all be vulnerable to manipulation and to believing the worst of our neighbours, whether badgers, foxes, refugees, benefit claimants, the disabled, or victims of tragedies like Grenfell.

(Michelle Lee Phelan)

Novena for the Fallen Through ~

Justice, healing, and wholeness for the people of Grenfell, and for us all.

This prayer begins with Fire.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

St Bride of Fleet Street,
of the river of holy water and of words running beneath the City,
we thank you for our journalists, for our national media,
and for all who seek to share the truth.
We know that many have suffered in the pursuit of justice
and of truth-telling and we honour the deep heart and courage of their work.

We ask that our media be protected from pressure by Government,
corporations, media moguls, or anyone with an agenda
to manipulate the things that we hear and see,
or from their own agendas to be more acceptable or popular.
And we ask for the sacred contract of the speaking of truth to power
to be upheld, and where it is broken to be mended, for trust to be regained.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We hold sorrow for all the times that we have believed news
that made us feel more comfortable without justification,
less willing to act in another’s defence,
more willing to judge, or to be moved to anger,
where care and compassion might have been our response
had we not allowed the media to soothe us into apathy.

We hold sorrow for all who have shared news that they knew to be untrue,
or to be designed to manipulate or hide the truth,
knowing that they have their own pressures which we cannot understand.

Let all stand together in the spirit of wild, courageous disclosure and communal truth,
and we ask for the Grenfell fire; it causes, its aftermath, and its investigation
to be held in this same spirit.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We ask that our own sharing of news, of story, of good gossip,
be blessed by your sacred presence in our hearts and in our words.
We ask that you make us mindful of the words we speak
and where we speak them,
knowing that others may be hurt, or discouraged,
or belittled by what we choose to say.

Let our words build up, where they might knock down,
offer comfort, where they might condemn,
offer truth, where they might conceal,
and offer love, where they might stir the pot of hatred and division.

For this we pray.

We ask this in memory of Mohammed Neda, Ali Yawar Jafari,
Karen Bernard, Lucas James, Rania Ibrahim and her daughters,
Fathia and Hania, Stefan Anthony Mills, Ligaya Moore.

We ask this in memory of Zainab Dean and her son, Jeremiah,
Khadija Saye and her mother, Mary Mendy, Gary Maunders,
Mohammad Alhajali, Hesham Rahman, Tony Disson, Sheila Smith.

We ask this in memory of Mariem Elgwahry and her mother, Suhar,
Jessica Urbano Ramirez, Deborah Lamprell, Steve Power,
Dennis Murphy, Amal Ahmedin and Amaya Tuccu, Isaac Paulos.

We ask this in memory of Marco Gottardi, and Gloria Trevisan,
Mohammed Nurdu, Fouzia el-Wahabi, her husband, Abdul Aziz,
Nur Huda and Mehdi, Yasin.

We ask this in memory of Nadia Loureda, Maria Del Pilar Burton,
Berkti Haftom and her son, Biruk, Nura Jamal, her husband, Hashim,
their children, Yahya, Firdaws, Yaqub, Kamru Miah.

We ask this in memory of Fatima Afrasehabi, her sister, Sakina,
Nadia Choucair, her husband, Baseem Choukair,
their children, Mierna, Fatima, Zainab,
their grandmother, Sirria, Raymond Bernard.

We ask this in memory of Majorie Vital and her son, Ernie,
Joseph Daniels, Logan Gomes, Khadija Khalloufi, Abdeslam Sebbar,
Fathia Ahmed and her son, Abufars Ibrahim. Of Omar Belkadi,
Farah Hamdan, Malak, Leena, and Tamzin who lived.
Of Mohamednur Tuccu, Husna and Rebaya Begum,
Mohammed Hanif, Mohammed Hamid, Vincent Chiejina, Hamid Kani,
a ‘woman’ unnamed, all the unnamed, the disappeared.

Blessed Brigid,
Holy Woman,
Saint and Goddess,
Mother of Fire.

Brigid of the mantles,
Brigid of the peat heap,
Brigid of the twining hair,
Mary of the Gaels.

We thank you that we live in a society in which
we can at least hope to hear the truth through our media,
knowing that in many lands it is otherwise,
and knowing that many of those who lived
in the Grenfell Tower had experienced living
in countries where truth was very rarely heard.
We are blessed compared to so many,
yet we are made vulnerable by our own innocence.

We ask for discernment to know when we are being told half-truths,
or where there is more truth to find, or when we are being lied to.
We ask to be given the confidence to make up our own minds,
to seek and to find our own information, and to know when it is enough,
when it is time to clear our minds and hearts of too much news.

But most of all, we ask for the end of the scapegoating of the poor,
the stranger, and the ‘other’ in our press and in our communities,
and in our own hearts and minds.

We ask to see through the manipulation, through agenda, and prejudice,
and to become a hollow bone for the sharing of your loving presence.

This prayer ends with Fire. Let it be the Fire of Truth.

For this we pray.

Aho mitake oyasin, amen, blessed be. Inshallah.

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